As a Doctor of Audiology, I am often asked, “What is the cause of my hearing loss?” and I often have to respond with “there are a combination of risk factors that could contribute to your hearing loss.” Two of the most common risk factors include diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.
Research has indicated that hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with Type 2 diabetes compared to those without the disease. In addition, adults with pre-diabetes have a 30% higher rate of hearing loss compared to those with normal blood sugar. Why you ask? There are two theories: 1) High blood sugars can damage nerves throughout your body, also known as diabetic neuropathy. This most often occurs in one’s feet and/or legs; however, researchers think that depending on the affected nerves, this may be happening to the hearing nerve as well. 2) It’s possible that the high glucose levels associated with diabetes cause damage to the small blood vessels that support and feed the inner ear, similar to the way in which diabetes can damage the eyes and the kidneys. However, more research in this area is needed to discover why people with diabetes have a higher rate of hearing loss.
Cardiovascular disorders also increase your risk of hearing loss. Many researchers believe the inner ear is often the first part of the body to be affected by heart disease. Studies have shown that inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss, especially low-frequency hearing loss. Why is the inner ear extremely sensitive to blood flow? Your heart is responsible for pumping blood and bringing oxygen and other nutrients throughout your body. The tiny hair cells and nerves in your inner ear need proper blood flow in order to pick up the sounds that allow you to hear. Without proper blood flow to bring needed oxygen, these cells and nerves can become damaged, leading to permanent hearing loss.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a cardiovascular disorder and/or diabetes, it is important to know that hearing loss is a potential complication related to these diseases. Regular hearing evaluations should be incorporated into your routine check-ups, because the earlier hearing loss is diagnosed, the more effective treatment options are likely to be.
Written by Dr. Gina Diaz, Clinical Audiologist